was supposed to be real or not. As I once spent a whole day driving around looking for Pilot Knob, Austin’s long-extinct volcano, without finding italthough highway markers said I was never more than five miles from itI can believe in a little mountain chain that I have never heard of. Others of the stories are set in Houston, Bass’ beloved and adopted Wyoming, and a couple of places in Mississippi, one of which is rather like Port Gibson \(which has not actually been a port since the river left Wyoming, all of the places ring true, and the better I know a place, the more Bass’ portrait of it seems correct. I could feel the blond mud between my toes as he described the wooded bayous of Houston although I cannot imagine that they are anymore as he describes or I remember them. The thing I find intriguing is that places so familiar to me are inhabited by people who might as well have just flown in from Mars, so alien are they to anything in my experience. I don’t mean, of course, in the bizarre elements: the boys who put on wolf masks to pursue and bully a classmate, the snowy Halloween parties at which all the adults wear antlers, or a witch who might turn a Civil War general into a dog-killing pig. No, I mean the people when they are being ordinary are the sort of people who are quite out of my orbit. I believe in them, at least as much as I believe in the grizzly, which is to say, a great deal, so I assume that some of them will be as familiar to the next reader as they are unfamiliar to me. Bass’ interest in natural history is reflected in all of the stories, but only in the penultimate story, “Days of Heaven,” is there much tree hugging. Here the caretaker of a rough-hewn estate in Montana discovers that the new owner of the property wishes to develop the valley, and the caretaker, of course, wishes it will not happen. There seem to be, in Bass’s view, two kinds of environmental villains. Ordinary people do things like tossing beer cans out of their car windows and shooting game for trophies, leaving the meat to rot. On the other hand, there are the money men, the outfitters, the corporate planners, the guys who think up the plots to destroy the environment. In these matters, the ordinary folks usually get off fairly lightly. As someone wiser than I has pointed out, we can wade waist deep in beer cans if we have to, but we will never be able to breathe sulfur dioxide. The ordinary folk toss the beer cans, while the corporate plan ners spew the sulfur dioxide. In this story the caretaker has stumbled onto a pair of the latter sort who, incidentally or not, are homosexual. Bass’s caretaker sees well enough that the developer wants to come live in the “Hightower,” from page 13 or El Salliador? Let me whisper two little words to you: “Prison Labor.” That’s right, don’t run ads or go to the unemployment agency for workersgo to your state prison! That’s what J.C. Penney and Eddie Bauer are doinggetting jeans and toys made by Tennessee inmates; Ohio prisoners have produced car parts for Honda; prison laborers in Oregon make uniforms for McDonalds; and TWA even employs convicts to book reservations by phone. Cheap? We’re talking as little as twenty cents an hour, with no health care, pensions or any of that other nonsense that workers on the outside want. And these guys always show up on time, they can’t talk back and they won’t be joining any of those pesky unions. Plus, you can even put a “Made in the USA” label on the products they make for you. Commercialized prison labor has become big business. Writing in the Madison Isthmus, investigative reporter Steven Elbow says convict-made goods will reach nearly nine billion dollars in sales by the year 2000. Indeed, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson is now aggressively marketing his state’s prisoners to corporate executives: “Can’t find workers?” a recent prison mailing asks them. No problem. “A willing workforce waits”conveniently incarcerated for you in Wisconsin. Convict labor is not totally free enterprise, but it’s close. And remember, twenty-cent-an-hour labor also helps push down wages for all other American workers. So here’s to you corporate honchos and your politicians for making America more and more like a Third-World nation. woods. What is not so clear, is that the developer’s wanting to live in the woods is not the problem, and neither really are the developer’s rather farfetched schemes one of which is a champagne delivery servicebut the problem is lots of other people want to live in the woods and would pay dearly to do so. There is, in other words, between Joe Six-Pack tossing his beer can and the scheming directors in their board room, the people who endorse with their checkbooks the machinations of the evil directors. Of course, it does not exculpate the directorsthe developersthe outfittersto point out that they engage in their duplicity, their deceptions, their corruptions, and their foolishness because others make it profitable, but while we think the evil few are all there is to the problem, we will always be chopping the foliage and leaving the roots. Music from end inspired by the motion picture. Bruce Springsteen Suzanne Vega Lyle Lovett Johnny Cash Nusrat Flteh Ati Khan with Eddie Vedder Tom Waits Michette Shocked Mary Chapin Carpenter Steve Earle Patti Smith Eddie Vedder with Nusrat Fateh Ati Khan Some of the greatest voices in music take a role in one of the most power ful films of the yearTim Robbins’ “Dead Man Walking” starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Executive Album Producers: Tim Robbins and David Robbins http://www.sony.com Suzanne Vega courtesy of A&M Records, Johnny Cash courtesy of American Recordings; Eddie Vedder courtesy of Epic Records; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan courtesy of Real World Records Ltd.; Steve Earle courtesy of E2; Michelle Shocked courtesy of Mercury Records; Lyle Lovett courtesy of Curb/MCA Records; Patti Smith courtesy of Arista Records, Inc. “Columbia” Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. Marca Registrada./01995 Sony Music Entertainment Inc./Motion Picture Artwork:01995 PolyGram Film Productions B.V. All Rights Reserved.
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